the rise and fall of ground effect
official records. (The 1980 Spanish GP
had gone the same way.)
FOCA needed the governing body’s
authentication and network of national
bodies. FISA needed FOCA’s hardware to
provide a worthwhile show. So the first
Concorde Agreement, the labyrinthine
document that basically governs F1, was
signed in March. Though its effects can
still be felt several revisions later, its
good intentions lasted mere weeks.
When Murray designed a hydro-pneumatic suspension for his ’81-spec
Brabham BT49C that crushed down
onto ultra-stiff springs at racing speeds,
but which resumed the mandatory 6cm
( 2.4in) ground clearance when the car
slowed and returned to the pits, FISA
realized that its woolly regulation was
already threadbare. By Zolder in May, to
Murray’s chagrin, drivers were blatantly
raising and lowering cars with the flick of
a switch. No worse than wicking boost via
the turn of a screw, they argued. Balestre
eventually “clarified” the situation: the cars
were legal, although they did not conform...
Absurd. But Chapman wasn’t laughing.
His new 88 sufficiently non-conformist to
be deemed illegal, he was fighting for his
fundamental right to innovate.
“When skirts were banned, we were
developing a test mule, a twin-chassis car
with skirts,” says Wright. “We thought,
‘Wow! It’s perfect for a formula without
skirts, because its body stays fixed relative
to the ground.’ That became the 88.”
“Its two chassis were independent. The
aerodynamic load of the outer one went
into the wheels, while its [now carbon fiber]
monocoque was carried by suspension
that could be soft because it didn’t have to
support the aero loads from the outer
bodywork. It was a fiddle. But it was legal.
“We needed a lot of testing to see how
low we could run it. But we never got the
chance, because every time it appeared on
a track somebody hung the black flag out.
“We were banned three times and
appealed three times. Whenever the
case was put in front of a proper court it
was accepted as legal. Any time it went in
front of a motorsport court it was deemed
illegal. It was an era of intense politics.”
Flexible fixed skirts were permitted in
1982 and Keke Rosberg, driving a
thoroughly “nice” Williams FW08, the sort
of resolved car that congenital risk-takers
Lotus eschewed, fended off the turbos to
become world champion. He did so despite
winning only once and missing a round.
FOCA’s boycott of April’s San Marino
GP was an over-the-top reaction to the
disqualification of cars that patently
were running illegally light. A PR disaster,
Ecclestone realized now that he could
only hope to beat FISA from within. That
became his long-term aim.
In the short-term his Brabham team
needed a turbo if it were to continue to
win. His signing of a deal with BMW (back
in 1980) would prove a fatal blow to
FOCA. When Balestre announced in
November that skirts and tunnels would
be banned and replaced by flat bottoms
for ’ 83, the news was met with disbelief
and a shrug rather than sustained protest.
Engines, plus a host of new and complex
manufacturer-led technologies, were the
priorities now – although aerodynamics
would soon start to reassert their grip.
Which all sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
One of the aces
FISA’s attempts to
in 1981-’ 82,
Murray also nailed
the first season of
in ’ 83 with his
BT52. (See RACER
253, Aug. 2013.)
Renault and Ferrari
had the budgets and
in-house turbo engine
programs, but lacked
the aero skill and
cunning of the (mostly)
British garagisti. An
exception, the French
Ligier team built the
JS11 (rear of photo),
which gave the likes of
Williams and Brabham
in 1979 and ’ 80.
(LEFT) 1981 Brabham BT49C
checks in the pits, then used a
system to squash it down onto
the track at speed (RIGHT).
BLATANT, BUT EFFECTIVE...